Day 11 continued with more witnesses from the state. The morning opened with some drama though, as a few motions were brought forward to be addressed.
The first was Morries Hall, George Floyd’s friend who was in the car with him on the day of his death. Hall has said he will not testify, and will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. His testimony could implicate him in other crimes, and the state has refused to offer him immunity in exchange for his testimony.
The defense wants to call him to give “a description of what they did that day.” The prosecution argued that Hall’s testimony may not be reliable since they claim “he gave false information at the scene” on the day that Floyd was killed.
Nelson asked the judge to allow him to introduce a previous statement Hall made to law enforcement if he refuses to answer any questions. In that statement, Nelson said Hall “paints a picture” of Floyd’s demeanor before the arrest. The judge said he will take the issue under advisement.
Nelson also requested to have the jury sequestered in the wake of the shooting of a 20-year-old Black man by a police officer during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on Sunday night, sending hundreds of protesters into the streets.
Nelson asked the court for two things: full sequestration of the jury, and to re-interview each juror about what they know about the protests and the police shooting on Sunday night. The unrest will be at “forefront of the jury’s mind-set,” Mr. Nelson said. “A verdict in this case will have consequences. They have been exposed to that already. The jury should be sequestered.” Judge Cahill denied both requests.
Cahill also denied a prosecution request for an expert witness to talk about what Floyd might be saying in the video. He said that he was surprised that there was no objection when Nelson first brought it up. The judge decided that both sides got to make their point, and that the jury can decide for themselves what they heard.
We heard from 3 witnesses on day 11: Seth Stoughton, a national police use-of-force expert, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, and Dr. Jonathan Rich, a cardiologist at Northern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University.
Dr. Rich testified that he reviewed the autopsy report on Floyd, three years of medical records leading to his death, and police body-camera videos, footage from surveillance cameras and bystander cellphone cameras to determine what killed Floyd.
“In this case, Mr. George Floyd died from a cardiopulmonary arrest. It was caused by low oxygen levels, and those low oxygen levels were induced by the prone-restraint and positional asphyxiation that he was subjected to,” Rich testified. He also told the prosecution he believes Floyd’s death was “absolutely preventable.”
First, he said police could have decided not to subject Floyd to the prone restraint. Secondly, he said Floyd could have been turned into a recovery position when he was passing out. Rich also said that once the officers did not find a pulse on Floyd, there was a “significant opportunity” to save his life with immediate CPR. If not for Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd, Rich said, “I believe he would have lived.”
During cross-examination from Nelson, Rich conceded that people with 90% blockage of the right coronary artery and a 75% blockage of the left anterior descending artery have died from a sudden heart attack. Echoing Blackwell’s questioning on whether Floyd’s death was preventable, Nelson asked, “So, in other words, if he had gotten in the squad car, he’d be alive?”
Judge Peter Cahill said Monday afternoon that he has looked over defense attorney Eric Nelson’s list of questions for Morries Hall. He ruled that none of the questions are admissible based on Hall’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment right. That is the right of a defendant to avoid testifying if it could incriminate them.
Philonise Floyd gave tear-filled testimony about his brother and his love for his daughter and mother. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher showed the jury photos showing George Floyd with his family and with his college basketball team, asking Philonise to talk through each memory. The jurors also saw a photo of George Floyd holding his daughter Gianna, who is now 7 years old.
Use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton took the stand last. He wrote a report of over 100 pages documenting his opinion of Derek Chauvin’s use of force. He used the “Graham vs. Connor factors” identified by the U.S. Supreme Court in his analysis: The severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether they are actively resisting arrest or attempting to flee. He also used this timeline in his evaluation:
Stoughton said there are two elements to Derek Chauvin’s use of force: First, the knee on George Floyd’s neck and second, the prone restraint itself. He said a “reasonable officer” would have realized that Floyd was already in handcuffs, and that there were four officers on the scene. He said it was not necessary to put Floyd in the prone position at that point. Stoughton also testified that a reasonable officer would have known the risk factors of the prone position, and of a knee on someone’s neck while they were in that position.
Stoughton said officers have a responsibility to render medical aid to a person in their custody, and they cannot assume the person is lying. “You have to take that seriously,” he said.
In conclusion, Stoughton told the jury that he believes Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd was “deadly,” and that it was not reasonable. “Both the knee across Mr. Floyd’s neck and the prone restraint were unreasonable, excessive and contrary to generally accepted police practices,” he said. “No reasonable officer would have believed that that was an appropriate, acceptable or reasonable use of force,” he added. Stoughton said the “failure to render aid” was also unreasonable.
Judge Cahill told the jury Monday afternoon that the defense is expected to start presenting witnesses Tuesday, and all testimony should be done by the end of the week. Cahill said he may even give the jury Friday off, with closing arguments Monday. “Expect that when you report for duty on Monday that it will be followed by sequestration,” Cahill said. “So pack your bag.
My take: The exclusion of Hall’s testimony is a win for the prosecution. Prosecutors refused to grant Hall immunity from future charges, which effectively blocked the defense from calling a witness who presumably wouldn’t have helped their case. What prosecutors didn’t want was the defense asking Hall whether he gave Floyd drugs. That not only opens the door for the defense to make more claims that Floyd died of a drug overdose, but it puts Hall on a silver platter for the state if Chauvin is acquitted. The state could pursue third-degree murder charges because of a provision that allows for drug overdoses.
Ultimately, Hall wouldn’t have really helped the defense’s case anyway. The jury is already aware that Floyd was an habitual drug user, and that he had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system that day. While Nelson wants every juror to be repeatedly reminded of this, Hall would have been an unreliable witness.
Denying the sequestration of the jury was a good call. They can’t be sheltered from everything, and hopefully most of them are smart enough to not let that case interfere with this one. Eric Nelson was right about one thing though…a verdict in this case IS going to have consequences, especially a not-guilty verdict.
Philonise Floyd’s testimony was a bit of overkill, IMO. The jury most likely checked out during parts of it. It was definitely moving, and sad to her how George’s death has affected their family, but it ultimately has no bearing on Chauvin’s guilt.
Dr. Rich and Seth Stoughton were 2 more witnesses that again, were extremely compelling and good for the state’s case. While a lot of people have testified to use-of-force, I think the more the better. Every officer or expert saying Chauvin was wrong is one more person hammering that through to the jury.
The state is expected to rest tomorrow, and the defense should begin calling witnesses.